Why the ‘reluctant communicator’ is media shy (Capital Buzz)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

NEW DELHI - After a series of negative articles in the media about the “silent PM” and “decision-making vacuum”, with one columnist even going so far as to suggest that the prime minister may be seriously ill leading to a crisis of leadership, Manmohan Singh, often seen as the reluctant communicator by his own aides, finally met 10 print editors last Monday over breakfast during which he spoke candidly on a range of issues.

But the breach of trust by a national newspaper over remarks made by the prime minister on China, which were clearly made on the understanding that these stay off the record, and which created diplomatic problems with Beijing that promptly protested the remarks, has made the prime minister even more wary of media interactions. He now wants the media at a safe distance and does not think media has much role to play in his style of governance - that is democratic, decentralised, is in piece with a larger, long-term vision for the country, and certainly not geared to cater to “breaking news”.


Alfresco dining at 7 RCR

Who in Delhi is brave enough to do alfresco dining in this monsoon season? None but the staff at 7, Race Course Road, the official residence of the prime minister.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hosted an iftar party Sep 8 evening amid short bursts of heavy rain, but none of the 100-odd invitees that included ministers, diplomats, top political leaders and leading lights of the Muslim community who were on its expansive, leafy lawns, felt the least threatened despite the relentless drumming on the roof of the white shamiana.

The rains did not spoil the party that had a delectable spread of biryanis, kebabs, rogan josh, jalebis and kheer among a wide array of food choices. Remarked a guest: “The rest of Delhi may leak and crumble in the rains, but PM House is immune to the capital hazards that afflict the ordinary citizen.”


Iftar season

It was the season of high-profile iftar parties this week. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Vice-President Hamid Ansari and Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Shanawaz Hussain were among those who hosted iftar parties, attended by the who’s who of politics, diplomacy, bureaucracy and other fields.

Clearly, iftar parties have multiple uses for politicians who use them to flaunt their popularity with the Muslims. The BJP even used Eid as an excuse to cover up a crisis in the party. One of the reasons BJP leaders gave for L.K. Advani not going to Ranchi to attend the swearing-in of Arjun Munda was that “Advaniji had given word to attend an Eid lunch in Delhi!”


Pitroda’s mobile pitch

A professor of English literature in Delhi University punched a hole in the choice of the title of Sam Pitroda’s new book “The March of Mobile Money” during the launch at the India International Centre Sep 7.

“I cannot understand the title of your book… “, the professor commented in the open house after some gratuitous self-introductions. “How can mobile money march?…” he said, referring to the semantics of English usage. He said the title had “scary” connotations.

“Very good,” retorted Pitroda, slapping the table top of the conference table at which he was seated with Bimal Jalan and Montek Singh Ahluwalia. “That was the intention - to excite a reader’s interest and curiosity”.

“The size of your cell phone is (in India) your lifestyle statement. Till a few years ago, Indian guests at restaurants would place their handsets on the dining table and then walk to the washroom for the neighbours to check out his mobile,” he said. “It is another way of saying India has arrived,” Pitroda quipped.


Whither Eid package?

There are no facts, only interpretations - this appeared to be the motto of TV channels who vied with one another by flashing “breaking news” of an Eid package for the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

It’s not clear where the Eid package story originated from or who these sources were who fed perennially sensation-hungry channels only interested in boosting their viewer ratings. But what is clear is that Eid has come and gone, with the elusive package nowhere to be seen.

Some political and media circles are now abuzz with the talk that the government may announce the “Eid package” on the occasion of Eid-ul-Zuha next month! Some people just don’t give up?


Ideology out, workers unite

A burning sense of injustice has blurred ideological boundaries and brought the country’s top trade unions together. Recently, Prime Minister Manmohans Singh was shocked to find the Congress-backed Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) leaders with the Left trade unionists who met him to complain about the “anti-worker policies” of the central government.

A surprised prime minister asked the INTUC leader “why are you with them?” The INTUC leader explained to him the circumstances which left them with no choice but to join the Left trade unionists on the other end of the ideological spectrum, recalled a union leader who was part of the team.

Now, the INTUC leaders are again planning to meet the PM along with the Left trade unionists on the same issue. It was this unity that led to a crippling nation-wide strike Sep 7, resulting in losses worth billions of rupees.


How many tourists are expected?

How many tourists are expected to come for the Commonwealth Games? Despite travel advisories by several countries and negative publicity surrounding the Games, the tourism ministry is sticking to its 100,000 expected figure.

Asked the reason for her optimism, Tourism Minister Kumari Selja replied blithely: “Well, we will get that figure, including domestic tourists. After all, lots of children would come for the Games.” The tourism cat seems to be out of the bag: the ministry and the Organising Committee seem prepared to fill the stadium - and perhaps the city - with tens of thousands of schoolchildren, from Delhi and perhaps outside the country, to give the impression of packed stadia which otherwise might appear difficult in the despairing circumstances.


Dengue scare and worried diplomats

The dengue scare in the capital is going to be a bigger deterrent than security worries, as far as the Games concerned.

Embassies of Commonwealth countries are having to deal with endless queries from their capitals following reports in international media about the dengue epidemic and the fact that the Games Village was sitting on the edge of potential mosquito swamps abutting the Yamuna river.

At least five ambassadors are said to be down with dengue. This week envoys from African and Asian countries pinned Organising Committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi down on various concerns, but Kalmadi as usual kept on repeating parrot-like his mantra that it would be the “best Games ever.” But the envoys are not buying that and were last heard complaining to the external affairs ministry about Kalmadi’s “arrogance” and how they were running from pillar to post in coordinating the visits by dignitaries from their countries at the Games.


For the love of Delhi!

Bollywood has a soft corner for Delhi, but the Commonwealth Games, with its construction frenzy, has complicated this love affair slightly.

Filmmaker Karan Johar, for example, is gaga over the spanking new infrastructure coming up in the city and is keeping his fingers crossed for the success of the Games. But beauty queen-turned-actress Gul Panag is not excited at all. “Connaught Place is still a mess! Still all dug up and undergoing the never ending ‘facelift’. Why, why, why?” she tweeted.

Actor Ashsutosh Rana who was here to launch a TV show was nostalgic about halcyon days spent in the capital doing theatre. “It is always lovely coming to Delhi. I have spent my National School of Drama days here and done a lot of theatre. So it is always nice to come and meet some of my associates. It feels great,” he chirped. A true Dilliwalla, despite Commonwealth blues!


Sonia cold vibes for Sibal?

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh lavished rich praise on Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal at a Teacher’s Day function. The prime minister complimented Sibal for “the “zeal, dedication and enthusiasm” that he has brought to bear on the work of “the most important ministry of the union government”, days after he was criticised by his colleagues in the Rajya Sabha over the Education Tribunal bill.

But Sibal was not lucky with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. At a function earlier this week to inaugurate 31 Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya buildings, Sonia Gandhi did not speak a word about Sibal’s work. The message was clear: Sibal apparently has to build bridges with his colleagues within the party as nobody shed a tear over the deferment of the educational tribunal bill in the Rajya Sabha following criticism by party MP from Andhra Pradesh K. Keshava Rao.


Ramesh wary of back-biting in Congress

The scrapping of Vedanta’s mining project in Orissa put the spotlight firmly on the man behind it: India’s green minister Jairam Ramesh.

The minister, also a close aide of the powerful Gandhi family, is revelling in all the media attention, but is at pains to to downplay it. Guess why? “Too much media attention will lead to back-biting in the Congress,” he confessed.

Clearly, many party colleague have turned not only green with envy, but red with rage after the media blitz surrounding the man they hold responsible for stalling many infrastructural projects in the country.

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